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jcunningham

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The Ghost in Love

The Ghost in Love - Jonathan Carroll The first Jonathan Carroll book i read, about eight years ago, was The Wooden Sea, an other-worldly sci-fi fever dream of a novel. I really liked it, and then I finished it, and it made me crazy, because at the end, I had only a vague idea of what the heck had happened.The Ghost in Love is less opaque but similarly fantastical, and I could probably give both books the same capsule review: It starts off making sense, and then things get really weird, and continue to get weirder. Also there is a dog.Like a dream, The Wooden Sea has totally evaporated in my memory, but I think I'll be able to hold onto this one a little better because it has a great high-concept engine driving the plot: when we reach the prescribed moment of death, our spirits move into the afterlife, but our ghosts remain on earth -- ghosts being spectral employees that inhabit your personality only long enough to take care of any unfinished business you may have had (you know, writing touching farewells to your wife in the fog on the bathroom mirror or sucking little girls into television sets or whatever). After that, the ghost moves on to a new assignment, becomes someone else's ghost.This is the story of one of those ghosts, Ling, who shadows her latest charge, Ben, waiting for him to die. While on the job, Ling falls in love with Ben's ex-girlfriend, German, and is looking forward to getting to haunt her. Except when his time comes, Ben doesn't die -- he survives an accident that should have been fatal. That isn't supposed to happen -- Death, who is an amiable sort, is quite out of sorts -- and creates a big problem in the bureaucracy of the afterlife. Ling is assigned to figure out why Ben was able to survive, even as the apparent rent in the fabric of reality introduces the sinister presence of a spectral killer in the guise of a homeless man.So, that sounds cool. And it is! But that's just the first part of the story, where everything more or less makes sense. By the time Ben and Ling team up with another death survivor, who lived through a fatal car crash [sic], and start time traveling, maybe, it gets tougher to figure out what's going on. Which can be a plus or a minus, depending on how you read -- there are great characters here, and the romantic relationship between Ben and German feels very real and whole, and you might want a little better idea of why and how all this is happening.But still! Carroll is great with his ideas, and this book has some great ones. There is this great romantic notion of being able to converse, really talk to, all of the separate yous, to have a chat with the frustrated teenager version of you that struggled to find his place in high school, and the lazy college version of you that never knew all of the opportunities he was missing. The idea of another person's love for you reflected in all of the people that remind them of you -- you are her third grade teacher, who believed in her, and also her father, who made her feel safe. The idea that your own view of yourself might include ugly, nasty people -- reflections of you at your worst, because ultimately, so many of us don't like ourselves.Does any of that make sense? It's like that in the book too -- big concepts that slip around in your brain, struggling for purchase, but you want to keep reading and figure them out. Maybe you never do.I almost forgot the dog: Ben's dog is a reincarnation of his former lover, who he inadvertently killed in a car accident. I have no idea why, but large parts of the story are from a dog's POV, and Carroll obviously gets dog psychology. Which is pretty fun.